22 July 2009

Ghostcrawler watch part 2

Another Ghostcrawler discussion caught my attention this week. On the surface, it's only of tangential interest to shadow, but delve a bit deeper and it throws a sliver of light on the kind of philosophical issues that Blizzard has been wrestling with since it dragged hybrid dps out of the underclass.

Discussing the merits of tree of life form for restoration druids, Ghostcrawler wrote:

I think the best way to explain it is that when the Shadow priest has a model to follow — there are dps casters and in this case, a class with healing capabilities is deciding to turn its back on those abilities in order to be more like those casters. You can debate the relative power and utility of say Shadow priest and warlock, but at a high level there is a lot of overlap there. Now consider the Resto druid who decides to go Tree of Life. He is becoming a new type of character – he isn’t like the other healers, because they aren’t giving up buttons (except for those already absent from their talent tree). The Resto druid is giving up buttons, and for what? To be as effective a healer as the others. (You can argue Resto druids are overpowered if you’d like, but it certainly isn’t the design that Tree of Life allows druids to be the best healer in the game).

So, to start with, Ghostcrawler is saying it's ok for shadow priests to be locked out of healing in return for the superior dps that shadowform brings, but in the same breath questions whether that same tradeoff for restoration druids is acceptable. I get the impression from this and other comments that Blizzard is concerned that it may not be.

Two questions jumped out when I saw this:
  • Why should healers be any different from dps?
  • Why is he using shadow priests, not moonkin, as the comparison?

First, why are healers so special? You could take Ghostcrawler's statement about resto druids and replace every reference with shadow priests to make perfect sense. Look:

Now consider the Resto druid priest who decides to go Tree of Life shadow. He is becoming a new type of character – he isn’t like the other healers dps, because they aren’t giving up buttons (except for those already absent from their talent tree). The Resto druid shadow priest is giving up buttons, and for what? To be as effective a healer dps as the others.

This cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a hybrid class in World of Warcraft today. Hybrid does not mean you can do all things at once, it means you have the capability to fulfil a variety of functions. We all have to make a choice. There is a reason why we have a finite number of talent points, and why we must invest in specific trees to unlock the best abilities. Shaman and paladins may not have forms, but they make the same sacrifices that priests and druids make on their way to mastering their chosen role — otherwise I would be dual-wielding titansteel guardians on my elemental shaman. Forms, after all, are nothing more than talent choices, albeit with some fancy skins thrown into the bargain. This is a choice we all make willingly.

So why then should Blizzard see restoration druids in a different light? And why is the tradeoff for tree of life not acceptable to the druid healer? Especially when the same trade is made by caster, melee and tanking druids?

I suspect the answer, as usual when issues of balance come up, is to do with pvp. I suspect a priest who can heal in shadow and a druid that can heal in animal form is considered overpowered by Blizzard. I do not know why an elemental shaman or a retribution paladin is not. But resto druids are the only healers shackled by a form — unlike shadow priests, every single one of their counterparts has free access to their entire spellbook at all times.

This, incidentally, is the answer to the second question — why pick on shadow priests, not a druid's other forms? I believe that's because the argument appears unacceptably thin when you're comparing talents of the same class...

I just don't get the distinction. As a shadow priest, I accept my tradeoff, I welcome it. But I'd do the same as a druid, wouldn't I? On a fundamental level, every player hates things that limit them — that why warriors hate stances, and hunters hate changing aspects. But for every limitation, their is a reward. Isn't that what forms are all about? And surely druids, of all the classes, get that?


Rohan said...

It's different because healing and DPS is different.

Essentially, as a DPS player, you want to be doing the maximum possible damage at all times. If you spend time casting a healing spell, you reduce the amount of damage you could have done. So a form where you give up heals for DPS is not actually a major sacrifice in practice.

Now, a possible argument against this is that having a hybrid player who can toss some heals is a good idea. As a player who has long championed paladins as hybrids, this idea is very attractive. But it just doesn't work. You're always better off specializing by using 1 pure DPS and 1 pure healer, rather than 2 hybrid healers.

If you recall, back in TBC, most high-end Shadow Priests didn't even cast Vampiric Embrace on most fights, because it was a DPS loss.

On the other hand, healing ebbs and flows. Unlike DPS, which seeks to do the maximum possible damage-per-second, healers aim to heal the damage that has been done. It's a mark of skilled healer to sneak some damage in during an ebb, and to manage her resources so that damage doesn't hamper her healing.

For example, as a paladin, I try to Judge whenever possible, and sometimes even melee. A Holy priest may toss up Shadow Word: Pain occasionally. But druids, thanks to Tree of Life, can't engage in this. And it makes life a little less fun for the healer.

Essentially, the reason that Shadowform is good design but Tree of Life is not, is the same reason that the overhealing exists, but "overdamage" does not.

Cataclysmic said...

I know this is off topic but do like your priest as a Bloodelf? I'm going to transfer my lvl32 dwarf priest to horde and I'm stuck on what race to have.

I have a male undead mage and think a male undead priest would look too similar (I've also heard undead males look poo in most gear due to the bones sticking out?), but I'm not sure if i can put up with the male bloodelf animations.

Anonymous said...

Theres only one true priest race, TROLL!!


Cataclysmic said...

Got a Troll shaman and hunter, not sure about their animations as a priest :/ I'm so indecisive!

Anonymous said...

Because you have allready 2 troll chars im willing to forgive you for being indecisive =) But really youre running out of options there, undead or belf. If you go belf youre always the pretty boy/girl and if undead, well you smell and never get ladies


Merlot said...

Dral's probably right about trolls, even though it burns my flesh to admit it. The males really are the coolest.

But if you have plenty of trolls already that only leaves you with undead or belf.

I'm effete and elitist so blood elf works for me, but they're not for everyone :)

Undead are the complete opposite, Surly and wretched, but they have their own unique charms. I think the rips and tears in gear work pretty well, but my undead aren't in epics.

Have a look at the T9 screenshots on mmo champion and judge from there.

Merlot said...


Thanks, that does help me understand the issue - though I'm not entirely sure your lucid description matches what Ghostcrawler said. If the issue is simply that healers should be able to do a bit of dps on the side when they have time, the fix is simple - open up the balance school to trees. Why all the hand-wringing?

Rohan said...

Well, if trees can cast Balance spells, what's the point of having treeform? Doesn't it become a purely cosmetic option?

At that point, wouldn't it be simpler to just have the druids heal in caster form, and maybe get the 6% healing in the form of an aura? It would even have the advantage that druids could see their gear.

GC wants treeform to be meaningful and different from casterform. The shadowpriest model, where you trade healing for extra dps, doesn't really work with healers. Maybe the model of the demon form of Demo warlocks would be better. The druid heals most of the time in caster form, but can transform into a tree for a limited time to do something special.

Merlot said...

But they're druids; shapeshifters. Why *wouldn't* they have a form for healing? I don't get it, but I glad someone does :)

Merlot said...

See, it's not just me: http://lady-jess.com/2009/jessrage/we-interrupt-this-hiatus-for-some-jessrage

DeftyJames said...

Let me just say that the reason you don't get it is because Rohan is talking out or his/her you know what.

What missing from the analysis is encounter design. "You're always better off specializing by using 1 pure DPS and 1 pure healer, rather than 2 hybrid healers." There is nothing magically written in stone about this fact. It just doesn't work because Blizzard doesn't want it to work. Rohan seem talks as if encounter design was written in the stars rather than the result of decisions made by human beings.

The reason that healing ebbs and flows is because damage taken ebbs and flows. There is no other reason. The idea that you can't over-damage is so silly I smacked the table when I read it. Apparently Rohan has never heard of a melee dying because they didn't get out of the colored goop. The sign of a good melee is his willingness to sacrifice dps for staying alive so he can fight the next minute instead of being dead.

"But for every limitation, their is a reward. Isn't that what forms are all about? And surely druids, of all the classes, get that?"

As a Druid who has played bear, cat, and tree I can say with all my heart we do get that. And much of your analysis is correct especially the part about PvP.

"GC wants treeform to be meaningful and different from casterform."

You just made that up out of thin air because GC said exactly the opposite. He doesn't like ToL; he's just stuck with it as a legacy issue. That's the real problem here. The real problem is how does Blizzard maintain ToL as a legacy issue, give the tree access to the whole spellbook, without making the class OP, especially in PvP. My own personal belief is that, one way of the other, shapeshifting is going to become merely cosmetic. I think that's whats going to happen because all the other solutions are, as far as GC sees it, worse.

In my own mind this really hit at the heart of the fallacy of bring the player not the class. The inevitable result is to collapse class into role and to make all class differences merely cosmetic. The spells all have different names and the skins all have different looks, but they all do essentially the same thing. Because if they didn't fo teh same thing, sooner or later some Pvper is going to QQ about how he lost the match not on his ability but upon class design and GC will crap his shorts.